The love cries echoing from the tenor saxophone are smooth enough to recall the pristine beauty of latter-day ECM, but this debut tape from Ben Vince is fluid and abstract enough to leave most of Manfred Eicher’s recent releases feeling determinedly conventional. Bigger names they might be, but Vince’s intuitive marriage of clarity and open-minded truth seeking leaves them wanting. Cosmic and soulful, Vince’s compositions seems to wander across time and space like some like some intergalactic flâneur, as happy in the cold dark spaces as the burning fires at the heart of the sun. And if these concise pieces resemble parts of a connected suite rather than stand-alone tunes, no matter – this is atmospheric, immerse stuff, dark matter in which to lose yourself.
The whole thing goes deep, for sure, moving from a kind of slo-mo liquidity to cosmic weightlessness effortlessly. You could call it meditative, but a glance at the (rather lovely) tape cover (courtesy of Sam Hanner) suggests Vince is pointing us in a slightly more intoxicated direction. It’s not quite the pan-dimensional shattering of Coltrane’s (apparently) LSD-fuelled Om – more like the warm sluggishness and dancing lights of a mellow night on the fungus. That shroom wonder is most audible on Cyclical Tendencies, the layers of sound morphing like shy mandalas while Vince marks out a brassy repeating phrase that twists and turns like a ballerina in wooden clogs, graceful and brutal in equal measure. In place of wild solos, Vince stacks shorter, melodic phrases often countered by more abstract textural interventions that occasionally veer into post-rock drift and drama. On Flotation, Vince’s motifs seem almost Middle Eastern, rising out of the low-end haze like some classic Godspeed! You Black Emperor interlude. Things are tougher on the title track, with a muscular bass ostinato providing the steely vertebra for Vince’s breathy, multi-tracked layers of puffs and honks. Elsewhere the bass coalesces into deep, droning calls. The long slow notes of This Too Shall Pass slide across each other, like vast cruise liners signalling across a mist-shrouded bay. A Fugue for forghorns, perhaps.